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The Gingerbread Man

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Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

John Grisham. Robert Altman. Kenneth Branagh. This odd assemblage of talent suggests a most unusual film, but there's just about nothing unconventional about this thriller, which gets the formulaic job done--with a considerable amount of style. In the bestselling author's first story written directly for the screen (the screenplay itself is written by Al Hayes--a.k.a. Altman), cocky Savannah lawyer Rick Magruder (Branagh) becomes romantically and professionally entangled with one Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz), a young woman who is being stalked by her unstable derelict father Dixon (Robert Duvall). Rick succeeds in having him committed, but he is sprung by his cronies just about as soon as he is locked up, not only placing Mallory in danger but Rick and his family as well.

Sounds like boilerplate Grisham, and that The Gingerbread Man is for all of its twisty (yet predictable) way. But what makes this one of the more interesting Grisham thrillers is Altman, who leaves his indelible signature under the familiar trimmings. The film has a most daunting atmosphere, created through a rich synthesis of stunning photography (by Chinese cinematographer Changwei Gu) and haunting music (created electronically by Mark Isham). Altman's penchant for long takes and complex sound design are also in evidence, as is his uncanny ability to attract a lot of solid acting talent (in addition to Branagh, Duvall, and Davidtz, the cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, and Famke Janssen). None of these touches are surprising; what is--refreshingly so--is how well Altman's distinct, idiosyncratic tools service the needs of as straightforward an entertainment as a this. In the end, The Gingerbread Man may not be a slick crowdpleaser like A Time to Kill or The Rainmaker, but it's the closest a Grisham film has come to approaching art.

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